Roger Federer crashed out of the Shanghai Masters yesterday at the hands of flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils — unable to rekindle the magic that saw him dominate the sport for so many years.
Monfils went into the match against the 17-time Grand Slam champion with just one victory in seven meetings with the Swiss, but he went toe-to-toe with Federer during a feast of attacking tennis, eventually winning 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3.
Federer, playing his first tournament since the US Open, started in the worst possible way, limply losing his first service game to immediately hand the initiative to Monfils, who went on to take the opener.
Despite vocal support from a partisan crowd, Federer was broken midway through the second set, but he broke back straight away, sealing the game with an overhead smash.
Monfils, clad in bright orange, drew first blood in the tie-break, but crucially put a straightforward forehand long when he had a chance to engineer two match points, allowing Federer back into the set.
With both players continuing to attack, Monfils grabbed the initiative, breaking to take a 3-1 lead and keeping his nerve to see out the match.
The Frenchman, 27, admitted he had “choked” in the tie-break, but said he had regrouped and tried to stay aggressive, which ultimately paid off.
Despite the win, Monfils said the Swiss, who struck 32 winners, but also 36 unforced errors, still inspired the fear factor in opponents.
“When he’s on the court, he’s still Roger,” said Monfils, ranked 42nd in the world.
“He can rip it from anywhere. He can do stuff that not many players can do,” Monfils said.
“Maybe it helps a little bit because you know he has had a couple of losses,” Monfils added. “So it’s less fear, but still, you know, you’re not going: ‘OK, I play Federer, it’s an easy draw.’ No, definitely not.”
Federer, who made early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open, came to Shanghai seeking much-needed points as he tries to reach next month’s World Tour Finals, which he has won a record six times.
Monfils will play top seed and defending champion Djokovic in the quarter-finals after the Serb defeated Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-3 6-3.
Elsewhere in third-round action, Germany’s Florian Mayer, ranked 50th in the world, shocked Spanish third seed David Ferrer 6-4, 6-3.
Seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brushed aside Kei Nishikori to reach the quarter-finals as Juan Martin del Potro progressed with a walkover.
The powerful Tsonga had a battle on his hands early on against the Japanese 12th seed, but he came out on top in a first-set tie-break and romped through the second set without losing a single game to record a comfortable 7-6 (7/5), 6-0 victory.
Del Potro, who is also chasing a place in the elite field in London, progressed without even picking up his racquet after German veteran Tommy Haas withdrew from their match with a back injury.
Former US Open champion Del Potro, who won the Japan Open on Sunday, was waiting to take to the court, but returned to the locker room when told the 35-year-old 11th seed had withdrawn.
In late third-round matches, Spain’s Rafael Nadal defeated Carlos Berlocq of Argentina 6-1, 7-6 (7/5), while Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland defeated Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
Additional reporting by Reuters